Vaccine makers say they can have new jab ready in 100 days for latest variant

COVID-19 vaccine makers BioNTech and Pfizer have announced they can have a new booster for the latest Omicron variant ready to ship in about 100 days.

The variant was discovered in South Africa and is said to be many times more contagious than previous versions.

Officials from the two pharmaceutical companies, who partnered to make one of the first versions of the COVID-19 vaccine, noted Friday that their companies are expecting additional data on the Omicron variant within a couple of weeks and that once the information is received, they will be able to determine whether the current vaccine will have to be tweaked or reworked altogether.

That said, the companies still insist a new booster for the latest variant could be shipped fairly quickly, according to Reuters.

“We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on variant B.1.1.529,” said BioNTech in a statement after being asked to comment on the developments.

“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest. These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally,” the statement continued.

Moderna, another primary vaccine maker, also announced its researchers are working on an updated booster vaccine tailored to the new variant.

“A booster dose of an authorized vaccine represents the only currently available strategy for boosting waning immunity,” the company noted in a statement.

Earlier this week, BBC health correspondent James Gallagher wrote that one scientist described the Omicron variant as “horrific.”

“This variant did surprise us. It has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations that we expected,” Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Center for South Africa’s Epidemic Response and Innovation, told the BBC.

Nature magazine went on to report that the Omicron variant was first found in Botswana in early November, adding that scientists are currently working to see if it is capable of evading the body’s immune responses.

“We’re flying at warp speed,” Penny Moore, a virologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told the magazine.

She also said that there have been anecdotal reports of some vaccinated individuals getting reinfected, though “at this stage, it’s too early to tell anything.”

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about this variant,” added Richard Lessells, an infectious disease physician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, during a Thursday press conference.

“The mutation profile gives us concern, but now we need to do the work to understand the significance of this variant and what it means for the response to the pandemic,” he added.

But the timing of the new variant and the need for yet another COVID-19 vaccine has left many people skeptical.

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